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Mike Fish Straight Shooting

Well-rounded woman

Colleen De Reuck juggles busy home life with Olympic preparations

Posted: Friday July 2, 2004 3:42PM; Updated: Friday July 2, 2004 5:49PM
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  Colleen De Reuck
Colleen De Reuck hopes to win gold when she participates in her fourth Olympic Games this August.
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

I've chatted up athletes while they've cleaned out a locker or devoured a plate of food, but Colleen De Reuck set a new standard for multi-tasking when I recently had a phone conversation with her.

First, De Reuck is 40 years old, and when the Games return to Athens next month, she'll become the oldest American woman to run an Olympic marathon. The petite, blond housewife qualified at the trials on April 3 in St. Louis, clocking a record 2:28:25. Yet there she was in the kitchen of her Boulder, Colo., home, whipping together a tuna noodle casserole as she talked about training schedules and her upcoming, arduous 26.2-mile trek from Marathon to downtown Athens.

De Reuck puts in a day that pampered, spoiled athletes would never abide. Already she had mowed the yard; done the grocery shopping; kept a physical therapy appointment; drove 9-year-old daughter Tasmin to her dental checkup; and walked Shaka, the family's black Labrador retriever, and a neighbor's dog, only to end up bathing both after a side trip in a muddy creek.

And with the Athens trip atop her agenda, De Reuck squeezed in a two-hour run and managed a weight-lifting session.

Her husband/coach/agent Darren jokingly calls her the ultimate soccer mom, and it's true. The family comes first, always has. So instead of logging 130 to 140 miles a week like many of her elite competitors, Mrs. De Reuck rarely tops 100 miles.

"My whole life isn't just involved with running," De Reuck says. "A good part of it, yeah. But my family is a big part and most important. That is why I can't do as much miles as the other girls do, because I'm on the go all the time."

The whole mileage thing may be overrated, anyway. And what's wrong with having a life outside sport? With the grind of ridiculous weekly mileage comes the risk of injury. So you could argue the key to De Reuck's longevity is that she doesn't race excessively and she's disciplined enough to take lengthy breaks after each marathon.

"All of this helps tremendously," says her husband, Darren. "Once Colleen had our daughter, Tasmin, her focus wasn't 100 percent geared on running anymore. It was family first and then running came second. That is a huge [reason why she's] able to run as long as she has, because if you see how professional athletes behave, they run, eat, sleep and do everything for their running."

That isn't to say De Reuck is a homebody, either. The woman is widely respected on the international running scene, perhaps foremost for winning the Berlin Marathon in 1996 and medalling at the 2002 World Cross Country Championships. Running then for her native South Africa, she was ninth in the marathon at the Barcelona Olympics, 13th in the 10,000 at the Atlanta Games and 31st in the Sydney marathon.

This 4th of July, while a lot of folks will be partying, De Reuck will be in Atlanta for the Peachtree Road Race, joining 55,000 avid and not-so-avid runners in the world's largest 10K race. It will be her last taste of competition before heading to Athens.

De Reuck choose to run Atlanta because the warm climate and undulating course is somewhat similar to what awaits in Athens.

Obviously, coping with the Mediterranean heat is as much a focus as dealing with the course. So most mornings, though Boulder weather is far more refreshing, De Reuck waits until the sun is strong to begin her workouts, and then piles on the clothing to further turn up the heat.

But the idea of prepping for a fourth Olympic team, let alone lining up as an American, was furthest from her mind after the 2000 Sydney Games. She was slowed considerably by a foot injury suffered three weeks before the event, and she left thinking she'd seen her last Olympics.

Even when she gained U.S. citizenship in 2002, De Reuck thought little of making another Olympic squad. The irony is, at the time, there was huge media hype about what the citizenship of Moroccan distance star Khalid Khannouchi would do to reverse American distance-running fortunes. Instead, Khannouchi was a no-show at the men's marathon trials because of an injury while the 40-year-old housewife quietly earned a spot on the U.S. team.

The U.S. women haven't claimed an Olympic marathon medal since Joan Benoit Samuelson won gold at the event's debut during the 1984 Los Angeles Games, but they figure to be fairly competitive in Athens, none more so than De Reuck, who fancies the race as a war of attrition.

"Because of the weather and the conditions, I just want to be able to run a solid race and hold my own," she says. "In the marathon, specifically the Olympic marathon, you don't know what is going to happen. People you don't even look at can run in those conditions. Yet some of the top runners maybe can't run in those conditions. They might just bag this and go for a money marathon in the fall.

"So I want to be in great shape and just see what happens in those conditions, that environment."

Of course, it'd be a story if a 40-year-old housewife, born in South African and running for the U.S., were to be a factor on the hellish trek from Marathon to Athens.

Mike Fish is a senior writer for SI.com.

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